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The Americas, or America,[1][2] are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World.

In the English language, the Americas refers to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, whereas America, in current usage, usually refers to the United States of America.[2][3][4]

As a landmass colonized and settled by Europeans, the Americas share many common cultural traits, most notably the adherence to Christianity and speaking Indo-European languages (aside from the indigenous languages of the Americas).

The Americas cover 8.3% of the Earth's total surface area (28.4% of its land area) and contain about 13.5% of the human population (about 900 million people).



CIA political map of the Americas in Lambert azimuthal equal-area projection
CIA political map of the Americas in Lambert azimuthal equal-area projection


The specifics of Paleo-Indian migration to and throughout the Americas, including the exact dates and routes traveled, are subject to ongoing research and discussion.[5] The traditional theory has been that these early migrants moved into the Beringia land bridge between eastern Siberia and present-day Alaska around 40,000 17,000 years ago,[6] when sea levels were significantly lowered due to the Quaternary glaciation.[5][7] These people are believed to have followed herds of now-extinct pleistocene megafauna along ice-free corridors that stretched between the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets.[8] Another route proposed is that, either on foot or using primitive boats, they migrated down the Pacific Northwest coast to South America.[9] Evidence of the latter would since have been covered by a sea level rise of hundreds of meters following the last ice age.[10]

Archaeologists contend that Paleo-Indians migration out of Beringia (eastern Alaska), ranges somewhere between 40,000 and 16,500 years ago.[11][12][13] The few agreements achieved to date are the origin from Central Asia, with widespread habitation of the Americas during the end of the last glacial period, or more specifically what is known as the late glacial maximum, around 16,000 13,000 years before present.[13][14]

The Inuit migrated into the Arctic section of North America in another wave of migration, arriving around 1000 CE.[15] Around the same time as the Inuit migrated into North America, Viking settlers began arriving in Greenland in 982 and Vinland shortly thereafter, establishing a settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, near the northernmost tip of Newfoundland.[16] The Viking settlers quickly abandoned Vinland, and disappeared from Greenland by 1500.[17]

Pre-Columbian era

Parkin Site]], circa 1539. Illustration by Herb Roe. The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic to European colonization during the Early Modern period.

"Pre-Columbian" is used especially often in the context of the great indigenous civilizations of the Americas, such as those of Mesoamerica (the Olmec, the Toltec, the Teotihuacano, the Zapotec, the Mixtec, the Aztec, and the Maya) and the Andes (Inca, Moche, Muisca, Ca aris).

Many pre-Columbian civilizations established characteristics and hallmarks which included permanent or urban settlements, agriculture, civic and monumental architecture, and complex societal hierarchies. Some of these civilizations had long faded by the time of the first permanent European arrivals (c. late 15th early 16th centuries), and are known only through archaeological investigations. Others were contemporary with this period, and are also known from historical accounts of the time. A few, such as the Maya, had their own written records. However, most Europeans of the time viewed such texts as pagan, and much was destroyed in Christian pyres. Only a few hidden documents remain today, leaving modern historians with glimpses of ancient culture and knowledge.[18]

According to both indigenous American and European accounts and documents, American civilizations at the time of European encounter possessed many impressive accomplishments. For instance, the Aztecs built one of the most impressive cities in the world, Tenochtitlan, the ancient site of Mexico City, with an estimated population of 200,000. American civilizations also displayed impressive accomplishments in astronomy and mathematics.[19]

European colonization

Large-scale European colonization of the Americas began shortly after the first voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492. The first Spanish settlement in the Americas was La Isabela in northern Hispaniola. This town was abandoned shortly after in favor of Santo Domingo de Guzm n, founded in 1496, the oldest American city of European foundation. This was the base from which the Spanish monarchy administered its new colonies and their expansion. On the continent, Panama City on the Pacific coast of Central America, founded on August 5, 1519, played an important role, being the base for the Spanish conquest of South America. According to the anthropologist R. Thornton, the spread of new diseases brought by Europeans and Africans killed many of the inhabitants of North America and South America,[20][21] with a general population crash of Native Americans occurring in the mid-16th century, often well ahead of European contact.[22] Native peoples and European colonizers came into widespread conflict, resulting in what David Stannard has called a genocide of the indigenous populations.[23] Early European immigrants were often part of state-sponsored attempts to found colonies in the Americas. Migration continued as people moved to the Americas fleeing religious persecution or seeking economic opportunities. Millions of individuals were forcibly transported to the Americas as slaves, prisoners or indentured servants.

Etymology and naming

World map of Waldseem ller, which first named America (in the map over Paraguay), Germany, 1507
World map of Waldseem ller, which first named America (in the map over Paraguay), Germany, 1507
The earliest known use of the name America for this landmass dates from April 25, 1507, where it was used for what is now known as South America. It first appears on a small globe map with twelve time zones, together with the largest wall map made to date, both created by the German cartographer Martin Waldseem ller in Saint-Di -des-Vosges in France. These were the first maps to show the Americas as a land mass separate from Asia. An accompanying book, Cosmographiae Introductio, anonymous but apparently written by Waldseem ller's collaborator Matthias Ringmann,[24] states, "I do not see what right any one would have to object to calling this part [that is, the South American mainland], after Americus who discovered it and who is a man of intelligence, Amerigen, that is, the Land of Americus, or America: since both Europa and Asia got their names from women". Americus Vespucius is the Latinized version of the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci's name, and America is the feminine form of Americus. Amerigen is explained as Amerigo plus gen, the accusative case of the Greek word for 'earth', and meaning 'land of Amerigo'.[24] (See etymology.) Amerigo itself is an Italian form of the medieval Latin Emericus (see also Saint Emeric of Hungary), which through the German form Heinrich (in English, Henry) derived from the Germanic name Haimirich.[25]

Vespucci was apparently unaware of the use of his name to refer to the new landmass, as Waldseem ller's maps did not reach Spain until a few years after his death.[24] Ringmann may have been misled into crediting Vespucci by the widely published Soderini Letter, a sensationalized version of one of Vespucci's actual letters reporting on the mapping of the South American coast, which glamorized his discoveries and implied that he had recognized that South America was a continent separate from Asia; in fact, it is not known what Vespucci believed on this count, and he may have died believing what Columbus had, that they had reached the East Indies in Asia rather than a new continent.[26] Spain officially refused to accept the name America for two centuries, saying that Columbus should get credit, and Waldseem ller's later maps, after he had ceased collaboration with Ringmann, did not include it; however, usage was established when Gerardus Mercator applied the name to the entire New World in his 1538 world map. Acceptance may have been aided by the "natural poetic counterpart" that the name America made with Asia, Africa, and Europa.[24]

Map of America by Jonghe, c. 1770
Map of America by Jonghe, c. 1770


South America broke off from the west of the supercontinent Gondwanaland around 135 million years ago, forming its own continent.[27] Around 15 million years ago, the collision of the Caribbean Plate and the Pacific Plate resulted in the emergence of a series of volcanoes along the border that created a number of islands. The gaps in the archipelago of Central America filled in with material eroded off North America and South America, plus new land created by continued volcanism. By 3 million years ago, the continents of North America and South America were linked by the Isthmus of Panama, thereby forming the single landmass of the Americas.[28]


The northernmost point of the Americas is Kaffeklubben Island, which is the most northerly point of land on Earth.[29] The southernmost point is the islands of Southern Thule, although they are sometimes considered part of Antarctica.[30]

The mainland of the Americas is the world's longest north-to-south landmass. The distance between its two polar extremities, the Boothia Peninsula in northern Canada and Cape Froward in Chilean Patagonia, is roughly .[31]

The mainland's most westerly point is the end of the Seward Peninsula in Alaska; Attu Island, further off the Alaskan coast to the west, is considered the westernmost point of the Americas. Ponta do Seixas in northeastern Brazil forms the easternmost extremity of the mainland,[31] while Nordostrundingen, in Greenland, is the most eastely point of the continental shelf.


Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas The western geography of the Americas is dominated by the American cordillera, with the Andes running along the west coast of South America[32] and the Rocky Mountains and other North American Cordillera ranges running along the western side of North America.[33] The 2300 km long (1429 mile long) Appalachian Mountains run along the east coast of North America from Alabama to Newfoundland.[34] North of the Appalachians, the Arctic Cordillera runs along the eastern coast of Canada.[35]

The ranges with the highest peaks are the Andes and Rocky Mountain ranges. While high peaks exists in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range, on average there are not as many reaching a height greater than fourteen thousand feet. In North America, the largest amount of fourteeners occur in the United States and more specifically in the U.S. state of Colorado. The highest peaks in the Americas are located in the Andes with Aconcagua of Argentina being the highest; in North America Denali in the U.S. state of Alaska is the tallest.

Between its coastal mountain ranges, North America has vast flat areas. The Interior Plains spread over much of the continent with low relief.[36] The Canadian Shield covers almost 5 million km of North America and is generally quite flat.[37] Similarly, the north-east of South America is covered by the flat Amazon Basin.[38] The Brazilian Highlands on the east coast are fairly smooth but show some variations in landform, while further south the Gran Chaco and Pampas are broad lowlands.[39]


Mississippi River Delta
Mississippi River Delta
Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina
With coastal mountains and interior plains, the Americas have several large river basins that drain the continents. The largest river basin in North America is that of the Mississippi, covering the second largest watershed on the planet.[40] The Mississippi-Missouri river system drains most of 31 states of the U.S., most of the Great Plains, and large areas between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. This river is the fourth longest in the world and tenth most powerful in the world.

In North America, to the east of the Appalachian Mountains, there are no major rivers but rather a series of rivers and streams that flow east with their terminus in the Atlantic Ocean; these rivers included the Savannah River. A similar instance arises with central Canadian rivers that drain into Hudson Bay; the largest being the Churchill River. On the west coast of North America, the main rivers are the Colorado River, Columbia River, Yukon River, and Sacramento River.

The Colorado River drains much of the Southern Rockies and parts of the Great Basin and Range Province. The river flows approximately into the Gulf of California,[41] during which over time it has carved out natural phenomena such as the Grand Canyon and created phenomena such as the Salton Sea. The Columbia is a large river, long, in central western North America and is the most powerful river on the West Coast of the Americas. In the far northwest of North America, the Yukon drains much of the Alaskan peninsula and flows [42] from parts of Yukon and the Northwest Territory to the Pacific. Draining to the Arctic Ocean in North America, the Mackenzie River drains waters from the great lakes of Canada. This river is the largest in Canada and drains .[43]

The largest river basin in South America is that of the Amazon, which has the highest volume flow of any river on Earth.[44] The second largest watershed of South America is that of the Paran River, which covers about 2.5 million km .[45]


The climate of the Americas varies significantly from region to region. Tropical rainforest climate occurs in the latitudes of the Amazon, American Cloud forests, Florida and Darien Gap. In the Rocky Mountains and Andes, a similar climate is observed. Often the higher altitudes of these mountains are snow capped.

Southeastern North America is well known for its occurrence of tornadoes and hurricanes, of which the vast majority of tornadoes occur in the United States' Tornado Alley.[46] Often parts of the Caribbean are exposed to the violent effects of hurricanes. These weather systems are formed by the collision of dry, cool air from Canada and wet, warm air from the Atlantic.



The total population of the Americas is about 859,000,000 people and is divided as follows:

  • North America: 2001 with 495 million and in 2002 with 501 million (includes Central America and the Caribbean)
  • South America: 2001 with 352 million and in 2002 with 357 million

Largest urban centers

There are three urban centers that each hold titles for being the largest population area based on the three main demographic concepts:[47]

  • The locality with legally fixed boundaries and an administratively recognized urban status that is usually characterized by some form of local government.[48][49][50][51][52]

  • Unlike an urban area, a metropolitan area includes not only the urban area, but also satellite cities plus intervening rural land that is socio-economically connected to the urban core city, typically by employment ties through commuting, with the urban core city being the primary labor market.

  • An urban area is characterized by higher population density and vast human features in comparison to areas surrounding it. Urban areas may be cities, towns or conurbations, but the term is not commonly extended to rural settlements such as villages and hamlets. Urban areas are created and further developed by the process of urbanization and do not include large swaths or rural land, as do metropolitan areas.

In accordance with these definitions, the three largest population centers in the Americas are: Mexico City, anchor to the largest metropolitan area in the Americas; New York City, anchor to the largest urban area in the Americas; and S o Paulo, the largest city proper in the Americas. All three cities maintain Alpha classification and large scale influence.

City Country Metro Area Pop. Rank within the Americas City Proper Pop. Rank within the Americas Urban Area Pop.[53] Rank within the Americas
Mexico City 20,450,000 1st 8,873,017 2nd 19,565,000 3rd
New York City 18,897,109 3rd 8,175,133 3rd 20,710,000 1st
S o Paulo 19,889,559 2nd 11,244,369 1st 20,395,000 2nd

Global cities

The Americas are home to an array of global cities with key importance in finance, politics, and the global economy. Cities such as Los Angeles the Entertainment Capital of the World lead the world in entertainment, while others such as New York City, Toronto, San Francisco, and Chicago serve as global financial centers and cities such as Houston are centers for aeronautics and health. Of the global cities in the Americas, the most powerful and highest ranked are located in Northern America.[54] GaWC ranked the top global cities in the Americas as:


  • Alpha++ world cities:
    • New York City


  • Beta+ world cities:
  • Beta world cities:
    • Caracas, Lima, Minneapolis, Montevideo, Seattle
  • Beta world cities:
    • Calgary, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Guatemala City, Monterrey,Panama City, Rio de Janeiro, San Diego, San Juan, St. Louis


  • Gamma+ world cities:
    • Baltimore, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Portland, San Jos , San Jose
  • Gamma world cities:
    • Columbus, Edmonton, Guadalajara, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Quito, San Salvador, Santo Domingo, Tampa
  • Gamma world cities:
    • Austin, Curitiba, George Town, Guayaquil, Milwaukee, Orlando, Ottawa, Porto Alegre, Richmond, Southampton, Tegucigalpa

Global Cities Index

In 2010 the index was updated, and the top American cities of the global 30 ranked were:[54][55]

Global Rank City Score
2 New York City 6.22
6 Chicago 3.94
7 Los Angeles 3.90
12 San Francisco 3.26
13 Washington, D.C. 3.25
14 Toronto 3.13
19 Boston 2.78
22 Buenos Aires 2.73
30 Mexico City 2.41

Global Power City Index

The Institute for Urban Strategies at The Mori Memorial Foundation in Tokyo, Japan issued a comprehensive study of global cities in 2009. The ranking is based on six overall categories, "Economy", "Research & Development", "Cultural Interaction", "Livability", "Ecology & Natural Environment", and "Accessibility", with 69 individual indicators among them.[56] This Japanese ranking also breaks down top ten world cities ranked in subjective categories such as "manager, researcher, artist, visitor and resident."

Global Rank City Score Best category (position)
1 New York City 330.4 Economy (1.) Research & Development (1.)
13 Los Angeles 240.0 Research & Development (5.)
15 Toronto 234.6 Livability (5.)
20 Boston 226.2 Research & Development(6.)
21 Detroit 224.1 Research & Development(7.)

Source: Wikipedia | The above article is available under the GNU FDL. | Edit this article

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